Gothamist

June 07, 2004

Natalia Paruz, The SawLady

sawlady_big.jpgThe Basics
Age and occupation. How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?
I'm 28. I am a musical saw player, bell ringer and a busker. I was born in Israel and I've lived in NYC for 15 or 16 years. I reside in a 100 year old house in Queens. I love New York's old buildings - it's like a time machine that can take you back in history.

Three for You
1. When I think of the great saw musicians of the modern era I think of...well, other than seeing Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel get down with a saw at the Bowery Ballroom years ago I can't really name one. How did you get into playing saws and bells?
I used to be really into dance (I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Company), until I was hit by a taxi cab and suffered a permanent injury to my upper back... To cheer me up my parents took me on a trip to Austria (as a kid my favorite movie was 'The Sound of Music', so my parents took me to see the place it was filmed at). There, we saw a show for tourists, and in it there was a guy playing the musical saw. I was so impressed. I went back stage and I asked him if he would teach me how to play. He said 'no'. Of course I said I would pay him, and how much would he charge. Still: 'no'. He did tell me, however, that I didn't need a teacher. He told me to pick up a saw, imitate what I've seen him do on stage, and that I'll figure it out... So, back home I borrowed my landlady's old saw, and sure enough, that Austrian sawyer was right. Except that my saw only had 6 notes on it, because it was all rusty. So, I went to the hardware store and tried out all the saws there. The owner angrily came to see who was "whistling" in his store... That was me trying out his saws. He was puzzled but happy when he realized I was going to buy an expensive saw, though.

As for the bells: On that same trip to Austria I noticed that there were a lot of cow herds everywhere, and each cow wore a bell on its neck. Through the open windows of our car I could hear that each herd had a different pitch to their bells. I got the idea that it might be cool to collect an octave of these bells and play 'Happy Birthday' on them as a surprise for my then boyfriend's birthday party. (Today he is my husband - so, I guess he liked it...) From that moment on, I stopped at all the souvenir stores and I collected 13 different cowbells. After that birthday party, when everybody enjoyed my rendition of 'Happy Birthday', I continued to experiment with the cowbells and added many more of them (totaling 64 now).

2. You're an international busker. Please describe how this experience has been different in the many places you have played.
The funnest place to busk for me is the NYC subway, because the acoustics are phenomenal and the people are nice and enthusiastic (despite what some people say about New Yorkers). I've been playing here for many years, both as a freelancer and with Music Under NY permits, and I enjoy the camaraderie that exists between the different buskers.

In France the funnest place to busk was in Montmartre, because my spot was on top of this mountain with the entire view of Paris at my feet. The Metro in Paris is noisier than the NYC subway. One guy was amazed to see me playing in the NYC subway - he told me that only a couple of months ago he took a photo of me in Paris... It's funny how people assume I belong to the country where they see me perform.

In Prague the police told me I needed a permit. I went to 3 different city offices where nobody spoke any language but Czech (and I don't speak Czech...) to try to get a permit. I discovered that they only give permits to Czech citizens... but in the subway you don't need a permit! Rome and Florence were great. People were really friendly. I could easily spend a whole summer busking in the different piazzas. But I got chased out of playing in the Rome subway (no musicians aloud).

Being a busker sort of makes you learn new languages fast, because everybody wants to talk to you. It's funny how all over the world people ask the same questions. And the police has the same issues with buskers. I must say that the police in Italy were the nicest... because they totally ignored me!

3. Would you say your philosophy of life is best described by "more cowbell"?
Though I haven't heard the sketch, I've certainly heard of it. For me "more cowbells?!" is what I'm used to hearing from my father whenever I tell him that I bought yet another bell. He can't understand how a person who owns 700 bells can still want more bells.

Proust-Krucoff Questionnaire
Time travel question: What era, day or event in New York's history would you like to re-live?
1920 - sawyer Sam Moore was accepted into the Ziegfeld Follies where he played the saw for 2 years. If I could travel back in time, I would like to have attended that audition.

Best celebrity sighting in New York, or personal experience with one if you're that type.
When I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Dance Company, I was sent to deliver comps to Donald Trump. I didn't realize that there was a doorman at the Trump Plaza... I just marched straight to the elevator. I guess I looked like I belonged, because the doorman didn't say a thing. I rang the doorbell of the Penthouse and the Donald opened the door. I told him that I had the comps for him. He reached out to take them but I said that I can't give them to him unless he signs a paper I had. He reached for the paper but I told him I didn't have a pen. He went inside and came back with a gold pen. The funny thing is, that at that time I had no clue as to who he was. When I told my mother that I was sent to deliver tickets to this guy, Donald Trump, who had a fancy pen, my mother exclaimed: "What! You met Donald Trump, and you didn't befriend him?!"

9pm, Wednesday night - what are you doing?
Watching 'Sopranos' I've missed on Sunday

Where do you summer?
Right in my own back yard - we have a gorgeous garden where my husband and I grow organic vegetables. It's like we have a farm in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world.

What was your best dining experience in NYC?
Uncle George's in Astoria. Go there when you are really hungry (huge plates) but not on a date (tons of garlic in the food).

If you could change one thing about New York, what would it be?
The weather. Too cold in winter, too humid in summer. Can we move NY a little bit down and further west?


More info on The SawLady is available at her website, SawLady.com. Her CD's can be purchased at CDBaby.

Posted by krucoff in www.gothamist.com/interview/archives/2004/06/07/natalia_paruz_the_sawlady.php


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